Python hunters prepare for busy season

- Python hunting season begins Saturday, April 1 and snake wranglers are gearing up for a busy season.

One such hunter is known as The Wildman. He is getting ready to spend two months ridding the Everglades of these giant, non-native creatures. But at Orchid Envy in Venice, Dusty Crum has a heart of gold and a green thumb. He thinks of himself more as a defender of small animals and less of a hunter.

"It's kind of a stress relief. I'll come in here and play with the flowers a little bit," he said.

It's these moments of peace that get him prepared for snake hunting. Crum has been hired by the South Florida Water Management District's Python Elimination Program to hunt pythons for two months.

"You grab ahold and... try to stay away from the biting end because they're going to be striking, and if it's warm out... grab the head without getting bit and try to get them controlled and put them in a bag," he said.

Last year, Dusty worked with his team - the Cypress Boys. They caught the most snakes during the state's Python Challenge. They caught 33, plus gained the honor of catching the longest snake, a 15-footer. This year, however, he's working alone, and knows it will be a challenge.

"The weather is warm. It's the mating season. The snakes are going to be nesting. Nesting season is going to be tough. The snakes lying up. The water level is so low down there right now. There's a lot more dry ground for them to be on," Crum explained.

South Florida Water Management District  hired 25 of the 1,000 applicants, Crum being one of them. Hunters will be able to roam all water management lands in Miami-Dade County. The water management district will pay hunters minimum wage and they will only be allowed to work 40 hours a week. It may not sound like a financially rewarding gig, but the real payout comes with his catch.

Hunters get $50 for every python they catch, 4 feet and smaller. If they catch a bigger one, it's an extra $25 a foot. That means a 10-foot snake would bring in $200 dollars.

"Somebody has to stand up for the small mammals. The otters, the rabbits. Some places, that stuff is disappearing 95-percent," he said.

For Crum, the hunt means protecting the land and animals he's come to love and respect.

"If I can find a couple of nests down there, that's taking future generations of snakes and that's going to stop their spread," he said. 

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